Food is my love language. I bake for family and friends at my home in Stillwater, Minnesota, and found healing from the hobby when my younger brother died of brain cancer in 2021.
Kneading dough and watching it rise can be soothing, so I focused on breadmaking and sourdough recipes, while processing my grief. As my skills improved, I discovered a business opportunity by accident.
Neighbors appreciated the loaves I was sharing and started offering money to offset my costs. The result was Cherry Street Bread, a sourdough microbakery I run at home — in addition to owning a strategic advisement firm for nonprofit organizations and being a mom of two young kids
For the most part, getting set up was easy. Minnesota has allowed the sale of homemade breads, cookies and other shelf-stable foods since 2015. State lawmakers passed additional reforms in 2021. Yet barriers remain.
I can take online orders and make in-person deliveries. Or I can sell my bread at farmer’s markets and community events. But if I want to offer the same loaves at coffeeshops, cafes and co-ops in my community, I am stuck. Minnesota bans business-to-business distribution of “cottage food,” which refers to homemade food prepared for sale.
Local restaurant owners have approached me about partnerships. They would love to present my sourdough bread on cheeseboards or serve it with soups and sandwiches, but I must decline. To comply with Minnesota law, I would have to become a licensed food establishment.
This would mean abandoning my kitchen and building a commercial kitchen for thousands of dollars. Or I could lease space from someone else, and travel miles away every time I wanted to bake.
Besides eating my profits, both options would destroy the integration of Cherry Street Bread into my daily life. I launched the business because I wanted to work from home. Commercial kitchen hours often demand working at times that would keep me away from my kids and my husband of 17 years.
Regulators insist the cottage food restrictions are necessary for public health and safety, yet their fears are misguided. All 50 states and Washington, D.C., allow the sale of homemade shelf-stable food without harm. New Jersey, the last state to join the movement, searched nationwide for problems and found nothing in 2021. Instead, the state discovered “scientific evidence that supports a finding that shelf-stable food prepared in home kitchens is safe for consumers.”
Several states have adopted even broader rules, allowing the sale of homemade perishable foods that require refrigeration. Even in these jurisdictions, reports of harm are almost nonexistent. A new report from the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that represented Minnesota home bakers in 2013, finds zero confirmed cases of foodborne illness related to cottage food sales in the six states with the most progressive laws.
These states — California, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming — show what is possible in Minnesota. State lawmakers in St. Paul can start by passing a cottage food bill like SF 3131, which stalled in the Senate Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee in spring 2023.
Among other reforms, this measure would have eliminated the ban on homemade shelf-stable food at restaurants and other retail outlets. Home bakers like me could have joined the food scene in our communities without packing up and moving our operations to a commercial kitchen.
The bill also would have allowed cottage food producers to sell perishable products like puddings and pumpkin pies after passing a home inspection. This would open opportunities for ethnic food vendors and many others, including people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who face barriers to starting food businesses. And for me, the bill would allow me to sell pizza dough, cookie dough and take-and-bake products that my customers ask for but I cannot currently offer.
If Minnesota presses forward with reforms during the next legislative session, the ultimate winners would be consumers, who are hungry for local options. My own customers love keeping their money in Stillwater, creating a circular economy, while buying “real” bread with simple ingredients they can pronounce.
My customers also love the transparency that comes with cottage food. If they have questions, they know where to find me. I’m in the blue house on Cherry Street.
Adriane Lepage owns Cherry Street Bread in Stillwater, Minnesota.